Steam sterilizable packaging films with excellent barrier properties


Packaging films are ubiquitous, yet their importance and sophistication are often overlooked by consumers. In order to ensure the quality of the purchased product inside, packaging films are optimized for the respective packaged goods, and often include coatings to preserve freshness and purity and to extend shelf-life.

Photo: Colorful sweets in foil packaging

Example of a transparent barrier film; ©Fraunhofer FEP/Anna Schroll

With packaging industry trends and consumer preferences constantly evolving, the opportunities for innovation in packaging films are tremendous.

For example, scientists at Fraunhofer FEP working with Applied Materials, Inc. developed a process for depositing an ultra-thin aluminum oxide layer with a thickness of < 100 nanometers (typically 10 – 15 nm).

"In contrast to conventional production methods, we have extended the process by a further component: the alumina is vacuum deposited with the support of an intense plasma, so that a much more robust, significantly more dense, and way more solid layer is formed compared with using a low intensity plasma," explains Steffen Straach, group leader in the department “Flat and Flexible Products” at Fraunhofer FEP. "This is of particular relevance for further processing of the packaging materials."

The ultra-thin aluminum oxide layers deliver reliable protection, for example in pharmaceuticals, cosmetics or delicate foods against humidity, gases and other environmental influences. Furthermore, they provide maximum transparency. They have a very high barrier effect against oxygen and water vapor, so packaged goods survive even longer storage and transport times, and can withstand superheated steam sterilization.

The high deposition rate of the new process developed by Fraunhofer FEP for roll-to-roll coating systems enables the efficient production of competitive packaging films.

"Working with Fraunhofer FEP to commercialize innovative processes for the packaging industry is a great example of what joint research efforts can achieve," said Daniel P. Forster, vice president and general manager, Applied Materials Roll-to-Roll Coating Products Division. "There is a growing market for improved quality packaging and Applied is the well-established leader in roll-to-roll systems to enable high-volume production of advanced transparent barrier films."; Source: Fraunhofer-Institut für Organische Elektronik, Elektronenstrahl- und Plasmatechnik FEP

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